Shane Black, the screenwriter behind the Lethal Weapon franchise, comes up a decade later deciding he wants to give the buddy movie thing a new twist, like Tarantino. That is to say fatally hip, self-aware, deconstructive and distracted, fitfully amused by its own absurdity. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which Black wrote and directed, is that movie, with a premise worthy of Elmore Leonard (which I won't bother to summarize here) but which gets lost in cleverness, cute tricks, and smirking flashiness. Imagine Oliver Stone directing this mess, with as many gratuitous PoMo interruptions, witless edits and grandstand mugging for the camera. Leonard has all manner of convolutions and twists and bizarre bits of business, but his novels are little masterpieces of craft and, lest we forget, storytelling and his ability to create characters and dialogue make the strange world of the criminal mind a fascinating place to observe. There is that observation of craft for all of Leonard's weirdness, which at times can make for splendid film diversions, like Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight.
But not always, with last year's adaptation of an earlier Leonard novel, The Big Bounce is the case in point; good crime novels require good scripts, as good looks and pretty locals alone won't create something we care about. The crucial flaw in The Big Bounce was fairly mindless, let us say the arbitrary shift of the novel's location from Leonard's native Detroit to Hawaii, which someone thought would be a better backdrop for turning the gritty novel into a romantic comedy. It was a rudderless enterprise in all, without rhythm or snap, highlighting Owen Wilson running low on whatever beach- bum charisma he'd trading on for the last half of the Nineties, and sadly the avuncular Morgan Freeman with little to do but look wise, bemused and entirely non-threatening. The best news from that effort, assumedly, is that the producer's checks cleared for Mr. Leonard. Kiss Kiss...is a sometimes amusing, visually busy effort that is graced by some good dialogue,but chokes by a sense that everyone is laughing at their own joke.
The punchline is never delivered. Which makes this movie a shaggy dog story, all without the zen "aha". Robert Downey is fine, though. Sober and confused, just what his part called for. Here's to seeing him in better movies. Val Kilmer is a homosexual private detective named Gay Perry, no kidding, and is wonderful in a slow boil performance; with all the flashy cuts and ragged edges to suggest a faint idea of self-referential ugliness (too much motion, not enough music) Kilmer has understated fun, and delivers the best line I've heard in a film in 2005. When asked by Downey's character if his Dad loved him, Perry replies that he didn't know but "...he used to beat me in Morse Code, so maybe I didn't missed it."Kilmer appears to have a developed a fondness for the weird character, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.